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2017-04-27 10:31:02
United Takes Added Steps to Win Back Customers and Avoid More Ugly Events

United Airlines, still trying to regain its footing more than two weeks after a video showed a police officer violently dragging a passenger off a plane, on Thursday provided its fullest account yet of the episode and announced a series of steps meant to keep such an event from happening again.

The measures include new limits on when passengers can be removed from planes and much greater financial incentives — up to $10,000 in travel certificates — for those who volunteer to change flights.

In a report detailing its findings about the April 9 episode, United apologized again for the events involving the passenger, Dr. David Dao, who sustained a concussion and a broken nose and lost two teeth, according to his lawyer, Thomas Demetrio.

The airline also promised to introduce several other changes to its booking and boarding procedures later this year.

United said that passengers who have boarded flights should never have to give up their seats, except for safety or security problems. The airline also said that it would no longer ask law enforcement officers to remove passengers from its planes over booking issues and that all crew members traveling to other flight assignments would be booked into seats at least an hour before departure, two changes it had announced previously.

United said it would also create a new automated check-in process that gives customers a chance to express their willingness to relinquish their seats in exchange for compensation. And starting on Friday, United will increase the maximum sum offered to passengers who voluntarily give up their seats to $10,000 from the $1,350 cap that most airlines use.

In raising the cap, United is following the lead of Delta Air Lines, which announced on April 14 that its supervisors could offer up to $9,950 in compensation to passengers who voluntarily gave up their seats. Industry officials said that compensation offers would still start at a few hundred dollars, and that payments close to the new caps were likely to be rare.

Security officers dragged Dr. Dao off a United plane in Chicago to make room for an airline employee trying to get to work in another city. The episode has been a public relations disaster, pushing United to undertake a broad examination of how it treats customers.

“Our goal is to reduce incidents of involuntary denial of boarding to as close to zero as possible and become a more customer-focused airline,” the airline said in the report.

United also plans to reduce how much it overbooks some flights and to create a special call-center team that can come up with solutions for overbooking problems. Maggie Schmerin, a United spokeswoman, said that rather than simply trying to switch passengers onto other flights to their destinations, the airline could fly travelers to nearby airports and pay for car services to take them the rest of the way.

In a further bid to regain its customers’ faith, United said it would address another cause of frustration among passengers — compensation for lost baggage — that is unrelated to the episode involving Dr. Dao. According to the report, United will pay customers $1,500, no questions asked, if it loses their bags. Customers whose baggage is worth more than that can still file for additional compensation, the airline said.

The changes United is making now “are steps in the right direction,” said Douglas G. Kidd, executive director of the National Association of Airline Passengers in Vienna, Va. But, he said, “Someone could have just used their head with Dr. Dao and said, ‘If you’re a doctor, and you need to see patients the next day, let me see if we can find somebody else.’”

Mr. Demetrio, Dr. Dao’s lawyer, said that he and his client both thought that United’s plans represented “an excellent start in a short period of time” toward solving the problems that passengers face with many airlines. He said he hoped that expanded training for United employees would include “how to defuse the situation instead of throwing gasoline on it.”

The episode involving Dr. Dao has also upended United’s top leadership ranks. The company’s board decided on Friday that the chief executive, Oscar Munoz, would not ascend as planned to the role of chairman. The board is also adjusting its incentive compensation program for senior executives to make it “directly and meaningfully tied to progress in improving the customer experience.”

Shortly after the episode, Mr. Munoz appeared to blame Dr. Dao for causing the problems. But Mr. Munoz soon reversed himself, apologizing repeatedly to Dr. Dao and saying he felt “shame” over how the situation had been handled.

Mr. Munoz, in a statement released on Thursday with the report, said he realized that “actions speak louder than words.”

“Today,” he added, “we are taking concrete, meaningful action to make things right and ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”

United’s report includes a description of what happened in the April 9 episode, though it contains few new details.

United released much of the same information on Wednesday in written answers to questions from the Senate Commerce Committee.

Dr. Dao and dozens of other passengers had boarded a United Express flight to Louisville in the late afternoon when the airline determined that maintenance issues with another plane might keep a four-person flight crew from reaching Louisville in time for a flight they were scheduled to work the next morning, according to the airline’s report.

The airline said it was worried that it might have to cancel the flight out of Louisville, disrupting 100 other passengers, if the crew was not there on time. So it offered an $800 travel credit to any passengers who agreed to give up their seats on the flight leaving Chicago.

When no one took the offer, gate agents invoked the airline’s involuntary denial-of-boarding process. According to the report, that meant customers who had paid the lowest fares, were not connecting to other flights and had checked in the latest were at the top of the list to be removed from the plane. Whether a customer had frequent-flier status was another consideration, the report says.

United officials have said they followed this procedure in selecting Dr. Dao, his wife and another couple from removal from the flight. The other couple agreed to accept compensation and leave. After Dr. Dao declined to leave, United officials called police officers with the Chicago Department of Aviation to try to persuade him to go.

But according to passenger videos and aviation police reports released on Tuesday, Dr. Dao tried to keep the officers from pulling him out of his seat before being dragged out of it.